Chilean national hero reimagined

The Imagination Of The Future (above) by Chilean theatre troupe Teatro La Re-sentida had shocked some critics for its portrayal of the late president Salvador Allende.
The Imagination Of The Future (above) by Chilean theatre troupe Teatro La Re-sentida had shocked some critics for its portrayal of the late president Salvador Allende.PHOTO: COURTESY OF PABLO DE LA FUENTE

Teatro La Re-sentida's fictitious version of late leader Salvador Allende sees him as a sleepy, doddering old man

Former Chilean president Salvador Allende lives again - but only in the theatre.

Provocative Chilean theatre troupe Teatro La Re-sentida is resurrecting the late leader in The Imagination Of The Future, opening on Thursday as part of The O.P.E.N., precursor to the Singapore International Festival of Arts.

The play offers an enticing question: What if Allende had not died in 1973, during General Augusto Pinochet's military coup? Would Pinochet's brutal dictatorship, which lasted from 1973 to 1990 and saw hundreds of thousands persecuted, have been avoided?

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    THE IMAGINATION OF THE FUTURE

    Where: 72-13 Mohamed Sultan Road, TheatreWorks

    When: Thursday to Saturday, 8pm

    Admission: $35 from Sistic (call 6348-5555 or go to www.sistic.com.sg)

    Info: Performed in Spanish with English surtitles. Go to sifa.sg/theopen

And what if Allende had had the best public relations experts and spin doctors? Would that have altered Chile's history?

The Imagination Of The Future goes down the rabbit hole to examine these and other questions, depicting a fictitious version of Allende as a sleepy, doddering old man. This stage shade is a far cry from the national hero, cut down in his prime, that many Chileans make him out to be, a premise that Teatro La Re-sentida uses to critique the current ruling class.

"I think I belong to a generation that grew up without heroes or idolatry," writes the director and the group's founder Marco Layera, 37, in an e-mail. "Unfortunately, I didn't have the opportunity to live through any 'epic period' in my country... therefore we do not have that nostalgia that our parents have for some figures and the past."

When the play was staged at France's prestigious Festival d'Avignon last year, some critics were shocked to see Allende reimagined this way.

"They feel deeply pained to see Allende decontextualised," adds Layera. "I imagine such a reaction belongs to a generation that grew and was politically formed with the figure of Allende from abroad, and who do not understand or have not experienced the transformation of the current Chilean society."

More than 3,000 died or went missing, and another 200,000 went into exile, during Pinochet's reign.

For decades, controversy swirled around Allende's death: Coup plotters announced he shot himself shortly after they stormed the presidential palace on Sept 11, 1973, but others claimed he was assassinated. In 2011, an official investigation of his cause of death was reopened and his body exhumed for forensic tests. The forensic team ruled that it had been suicide.

In recent years, young Chileans have become increasingly unhappy about the state of education and gross inequality in their country, says Layera. His generation has become largely disillusioned with the country's political progress.

This has afforded them some distance from the heroic myth of Allende to examine issues that might be difficult for their parents' or grandparents' generation. He adds: "I think this disappointment and the passage of time have given us the freedom to create this show, allowing us to defiantly revisit some facts and figures that have determined the political identity of our country without falling into romanticism or a nostalgia for the past."

Founded in 2007, Teatro La Re-sentida - its name, roughly translated, means "re-feel" - is interested in creating works that prod audiences to feel emotions acutely, often employing dark humour, irony and sarcasm.

Before rehearsals, Layera pulls together short scenes, images or dramatic situations as a guide. The cast then expands on and improvises around this loose framework.

He says: "I think theatre has a duty to reflect on the issues that we have resolved as a society; to wonder about our past and our future, about who we are and who we want to be."

corriet@sph.com.sg

Follow Corrie Tan on Twitter @CorrieTan

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 22, 2015, with the headline 'Chilean national hero reimagined'. Print Edition | Subscribe